ASEAN leaders to adopt rights pact despite protest

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012
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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Southeast Asian leaders plan to adopt a human rights declaration aimed at fighting torture and illegal arrests in a region notorious for violations, despite criticism that the pact falls short of international standards.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are scheduled to formally adopt the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration on Sunday during the group's annual summit in Cambodia, according to diplomats and documents obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.

ASEAN leaders would commit to promote and protect human rights, along with "democracy, rule of law and good governance" in a joint statement they would sign to launch the declaration. But provisions in the draft say rights could be limited for reasons of security, public order and morality, exceptions that were criticized by rights groups.

The bloc's human rights commission, which drafted the declaration, would work for "the full realization of human dignity and the attainment of a higher quality of life for ASEAN peoples," the leaders would pledge in their statement.

Founded in 1967 as an anti-communist bloc in the Cold War era, ASEAN has taken feeble steps to address human rights concerns in the vast region of 600 million people, adopting a charter in 2007 where it committed to uphold international law and human rights but retained a bedrock principle of not interfering in each other's internal affairs — a loophole that critics say helps member states commit abuses without consequence. In 2009, the group unveiled a commission that was tasked to promote human rights but deprived of power to investigate violations or go after abusers.

ASEAN diplomats have called the declaration a milestone in the region despite its imperfections, saying it will help cement democratic reforms in countries such as Myanmar, which until recently has been widely condemned for its human rights record.

Philippine diplomat Rosario Manalo, a key proponent, says it is significant that the region's less democratic governments have embraced the declaration, which could have been torpedoed by any ASEAN member. The 10-nation group decides by consensus, meaning that even one objection could block a majority decision.

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